News, comments, resources, and more for nonprofits.
Mark Grimm recently presented an AFP webinar on the financial impacts of compelling messages. He says your communication has to show impact in less than 15 seconds! The way to do that is through simple, clear, precise language. He suggests achieving clear messages by ‘peeling the onion,’ over and over, until the focus is on core benefits to the reader (potential donor). The focus has to be on the reader, not the writer and his/her perspective from within the organization.
“You are proving to the donor you are making the change in the world the donor wants to pay for.” ~~Robbe Healy, Farr Healy Consulting
Clarity is the Issue
- Simplicity: uncluttered; no jargon
- Precise: no extra words; only what is important
- Benefits, not services/programs: what the organization really delivers to everyday people
- Prove it: select data that ‘tell the benefit story’
- Emotion and reason: use testimonials related to the top three impact areas
- Human face: connect with the reader with eye-catching visuals
By writing with clarity, (potential) donors are more easily drawn into your message, mission, and impact—and, more likely to find what they want to pay for. Once donors invest in your organization, thank them and ask why they gave a gift. Simple, yet so seldom done. Their answers will help build relationships and further clarify your next message.
ONEplace presented an Association of Fundraising Professionals webinar this week, in which Sandy Rees, CFRE, provided a system for sustainable fundraising that can be implemented at nonprofits of all sizes and lifecycle stages.
Her system includes seven basic steps and several planning tools to assure a structured, balanced approach.
Step 1: Make fundraising a priority.
Step 2: Understand why people give.
Step 3: Identify the best donor prospect.
Step 4: Tell your story.
Step 5: Plan how and when will you ask for a gift.
Step 6: Acknowledge the gift and build relationships.
Step 7: Evaluate success.
Sounds a lot like other fundraising advice, right? Sandy’s model spells out what each of the steps means, and how to put each into action in a methodical, approachable way using a number of planning charts. Detailed, written planning is the difference in her model.
Her website has a wealth of practical resources and tips, including: a free CD for beginning fundraisers, videos, an eNews, books and CD sets, and blogs.
Hope you find some helpful information to set you on the path to ‘getting fully funded.’
Get Fully Funded
New Year blogs from four respected leadership authors/consultants came into my email box last week. Each addresses five items (why five?) related to leadership they recommend for action in 2012.
While these authors write primarily for business audiences, their advice is just as appropriate to nonprofit staff and volunteers.
Follow the links for their complete comments.
Dorie Clark covers her “going to stop cold turkey” list:
- Responding like a trained monkey
- Mindless traditions
- Reading annoying things
- Work that’s not worth it
- Making things more complicated than they should be
Mike Myatt shares his personal priorities for the year, and he includes a bonus item (#6).
- Family: if you are struggling with work/life balance, choose family
- White space: clearing your mind to be and act only in the present
- Listen: stop talking and listen
- Unlearn: be willing to learn and change opinions and actions
- Engage: it’s not about you, it’s about the people you serve and lead
- (Bonus) Read: few things impact your thought life more than reading
John Coleman and Bill George recommend actions for aspiring Gen X and Millennial professionals to prepare for challenges of leadership roles:
- Find a trustworthy mentor
- Form a leadership development group
- Volunteer in a civic or service organization
- Work in or travel to one new country
- Ask more questions than you answer
Leadership Tips for 2012
As we near the end of 2011, many of us will be making what we believe to be ‘tax-deductible donations’ to charitable causes. Before making a donation and listing it on your tax return, please review the following current regulations, including how to document electronic gifts. As our law makers search for ways to resolve state and national economic challenges, regulations will continue to change, so staying current is in everyone’s best interest.
In addition, during this past year, over 275,000 organizations, nationwide, were dropped from tax-exempt status, so checking the status of organizations is more important than ever. Publication 78 lists current eligible organizations.
Here is a summary of IRS rules, direct from their website, with links to publications they refer to at the end:
IRS Tax Tip 2011-57, March 22, 2011 (http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=106990,00.html)
Charitable contributions made to qualified organizations may help lower your tax bill. The IRS has put together the following eight tips to help ensure your contributions pay off on your tax return.
- If your goal is a legitimate tax deduction, then you must be giving to a qualified organization. Also, you cannot deduct contributions made to specific individuals, political organizations and candidates. See IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, for rules on what constitutes a qualified organization.
- To deduct a charitable contribution, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A.
- If you receive a benefit because of your contribution such as merchandise, tickets to a ball game or other goods and services, then you can deduct only the amount that exceeds the fair market value of the benefit received.
- Donations of stock or other non-cash property are usually valued at the fair market value of the property. Clothing and household items must generally be in good used condition or better to be deductible. Special rules apply to vehicle donations.
- Fair market value is generally the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither having to buy or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of all the relevant facts.
- Regardless of the amount, to deduct a contribution of cash, check, or other monetary gift, you must maintain a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written communication from the organization containing the name of the organization, the date of the contribution and amount of the contribution. For text message donations, a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the receiving organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount given.
- To claim a deduction for contributions of cash or property equaling $250 or more you must have a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written acknowledgment from the qualified organization showing the amount of the cash and a description of any property contributed, and whether the organization provided any goods or services in exchange for the gift. One document may satisfy both the written communication requirement for monetary gifts and the written acknowledgement requirement for all contributions of $250 or more. If your total deduction for all noncash contributions for the year is over $500, you must complete and attach IRS Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, to your return.
- Taxpayers donating an item or a group of similar items valued at more than $5,000 must also complete Section B of Form 8283, which generally requires an appraisal by a qualified appraiser.
For more information on charitable contributions, refer to Form 8283 and its instructions, as well as Publication 526, Charitable Contributions. For information on determining value, refer to Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property. These forms and publications are available at http://www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
IRS Tax Tip 2011-57
After attending the Michigan Nonprofit Association’s Nonprofit Day 2011, I found out that, yes nonprofits can lobby. According to the IRS, 501(c)(3) corporations are allowed to lobby as long as they follow their rules and fill out the proper forms. The IRS defines lobbying as attempting to influence legislation by contacting, or encouraging the public to contact, members of a legislative body for purposes of supporting/opposing/proposing legislation. The major rule is that nonprofits cannot spend a “substantial amount” of their budget on lobbying. For a clearer explanation of what the IRS considers to be a “substantial amount,” check out Measuring Lobbying Activity: Expenditure Test. Charity Lawyers Blog post titled, Lobbying-Yes You Can! clarifies in layman’s, terms what is and is not lobbying, as well as explaining the 501(h) election.
According to the IRS, qualifying organizations may file a special election under 501(h) of the Code, or Election/Revocation of Election by an Eligible Section 501(c)(3) Organization To Make Expenditures To Influence Legislation (501(H) Election), to allow them to spend up to a specified dollar amount for lobbying without fear of adverse tax consequence from such activities. The IRS and Michigan Nonprofit Association advise nonprofits to file the 501(h) election if they are planning on doing any lobbying, as well as tracking all expenditures. ‘Direct’ and ‘Grassroots’ lobbying must be tracked separately as they have separate expenditure limits.
IRS Resources on Lobbying and expenditure limits:
IRS Definition of Direct & Grassroots Lobbying
IRS Schedule C Political Campaign and Lobbying Activities
IRS General Instructions for Filing Schedule C for Lobbying Activity
Excessive lobbying activities over a four-year period may cause a nonprofit to lose its tax-exempt status, making all of its income for that period subject to tax.
For questions on how to use communication channels such as your website, email, and social media channels for lobbying, Alliance for Justice is offering a free downloadable copy of Influencing Public Policy In The Digital Age: The Law of Online Lobbying and Election-related Activities. The guide is intended to inform 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) organizations on how to stay within the law and encourage participation in the nation’s democratic process using technology.
Consult your attorney and the IRS Charities/Nonprofits webpage for more information on how nonprofits can lobby for their cause. Other helpful resources are the IRS eNews: Exempt Organization Update and Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest website. ONEplace will be hosting a webinar November 15 titled Lobbying Rules for Nonprofits presented by Alliance for Justice. Register online soon as we anticipate seats will go fast!
Please share your thoughts about nonprofit lobbying by commenting on my blog!
Lobbying-Yes You Can!
Several fundraising and philanthropy organizations and journals, web-based experts, and sector associations are predicting ‘tough years ahead’ for all types of fundraising. Holly Hall’s article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (June 2011) cites a Giving USA report indicating giving has fallen more since 2008 than in the past 50 years.
An article in the August 24th Chronicle cites a new report by Dunham+Company that shows two-thirds of donors surveyed plan to cut back on giving this fall—and, 10% plan to stop giving altogether!
The slow recovery and current threat of a double-dip recession, along with continued unemployment, suggest ‘it could be as long as 2016 before donations return to’ pre-recession levels.
Adding to the economic issues, the national deficit reduction talks and policy conversations may lead to additional challenges for nonprofits relying on donations to keep their doors open and serve their constituents.
What can nonprofits do? Take steps, today, to increase your skills and relationships!
The annual, year-end fundraising season is fast approaching! What can organizations do, now, to connect with their donors in more meaningful ways, and find new people to support their mission, in this environment?
- Learn all you can about your donors and why they support your organization. What is ‘in it for them’ rather than what’s in it for the organization?
- Gather stories (and photos) of real people benefitting from your programs and services to ‘show and tell’ what you do and what difference it makes.
- Attend workshops and webinars at ONEplace and elsewhere to learn all you can about fundraising, donor relations, and communication.
- Seek online resources, such as the Chronicle; blogs by fundraising experts across the country, like Tom Ahern or Donor Power; or, voices of experience on Monday Movies, Fundraising and Awareness Movies for Nonprofits; and, many more.
What can donors do? Take steps to know what your gifts do in the community/world and give** generously to those you believe in.
As donors, the choice is yours to invest in a nonprofit or not.
- Why do you support the organizations you do and not others? How and when did you start giving to them? Are you involved in any other way? How much do you really know about them?
- Have you stopped donating to some nonprofits? Why? Would you consider renewing gifts to them? Why?
- Are you sure nonprofits you want to donate to are still tax-exempt? Check the new IRS rules.
- Study online resources for donors that will help your decision making: TakeAction@GuideStar; Questions to Ask; and the Donor Bill of Rights from the Association of Fundraising Professionals
- **Invest in the nonprofits you believe in and trust, generously, with your gifts of money, time, expertise, and ambassadorship. You will help make our community and world a better place during this challenging time, and always. Thank you!
ONEplace @ KPL
Do you cringe at the idea of facing a blank page? Does the task of blogging and writing newsletter articles make you nauseous? You are not alone; there is help available to you. Here are some useful resources you can access with helpful advice from those working in the nonprofit communication field.
Katya’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog is written specifically for nonprofit professionals and offers a wealth of knowledge on different topics pertaining to communication and fundraising.
Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog focuses mainly on writing appeal letters, websites, and social media content. Kivi also offers webinars and podcasts.
6 Tips for Writing Nonprofit Marketing Copy That Works written by Nancy E. Schwartz constructs the foundation for all nonprofit writing.
(all can be found at Kalamazoo Public Library)
Writing for a Good Cause by Joseph Barbato and Danielle S. Furlich
The Complete Guide to Writing Successful Fundraising Letters by Charlotte Rains Dixon
Storytelling for Grant Seekers by Cheryl A. Clarke
How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters by Mal Warwick
Writing for a nonprofit organization goes beyond your basic introduction, body, and conclusion. We as nonprofit professionals are challenged to create interest, meaning, and sometimes action surrounding our organizations. What inspires your writing? Do you have some words of wisdom to share that help you conquer the blank page?
Writing for a Good Cause
Nonprofits often seek grants from foundations for new projects or ongoing financial support. During an informative webinar, presented today by John Hicks, CFRE, for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), he discussed ways to build positive relationships with foundations.
His ‘elements of a good relationship’ include: trust, communication, shared values, honesty, and respect…as he noted, the elements of any good relationship. Learning about a foundation’s mission, values, culture, philanthropic philosophies, and practices, is critical to assessing a good match and possible funding opportunity. If mission and values clearly aren’t in alignment, he urges grant seekers to not waste their own or the foundation’s time in pursuing a relationship.
His ‘six rules of engagement’ build on those elements. Nonprofits need to know:
- The landscape--the type of foundation: mega, competitive or community, family
- The people you are dealing with--program officer/staff, board members, or family foundation donor; learn through direct conversations and through your networks
- Their considerations—what they are dealing with that has nothing to do with you, or ‘their environment’
- What they value—outcomes that relate to their vision, working with people who have authority and responsibility for funding and outcomes, and people who follow their protocol
- How to give them what they want, how they want it—by learning their culture, personalities, and information processing practices, without shortcuts. Never to under estimate the importance of the gatekeeper—the person who opens and is the first to review your correspondence, requests, and reports for process (rules) and information
- Minimize risk—their risk through failed projects or misuse of funds; grantee risk through unrealistic expectations or mission drift
Stating that, like other types of fundraising, people give to people the trust, he encourages nonprofits to keep foundations informed about their work and outcomes before and while seeking funding from them. The relationship is a professional one, not a personal one, that needs to be treated much like working with an attorney to prepare a case: the grant-seeker preparing a case to the foundation and the foundation professional preparing a case to his/her board, grants panel, or the donor, directly.
These and many other grant-seeker/grant-maker resources are available at ONEplace and through the AFP website. If you have tips for developing positive relationships with foundations, please comment on this blog.
Association of Fundraising Professionals
The big buzz in the social media world right now is Google+. But what is it and why should nonprofits care? Google+ is a new social media venture created by Google to, “bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software” according to Vic Gundotra, Senior Vice President, Engineering at Google. It offers many of the same communication features social media users of Facebook and Twitter are familiar with such as messaging, pictures, and games, along with some valuable extras.
The big difference between Google+ and other established social media sites is Google+ organizes contacts into different “circles” or groups. This allows the user to communicate specifically with targeted groups. For example, a user can send out a targeted post to their planned giving circle, and a different post to their professional circle. Other features include Instant Upload, Hangouts, Sparks, and Huddle.
To learn more about Google+, visit:
Keep in mind that Google+ has not been rolled out to the general public, it is by invitation only.
What is your opinion of Google+? Are you one of the lucky few to receive the Google+ golden ticket? Please share your comments by posting to this blog.
Do you know if there is? Do you know how much it affects your organization’s ability to do your mission-driven work now or in the future?
During our First Wednesday Risk Management Series webinar, presenter Carlye Christianson of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center pointed out several critical outcomes from having ‘unhappy stakeholders’ (staff, volunteer, board members) in your midst. Common to all stakeholder groups: discontent diminishes commitment to mission; and, costs of replacing people are high. She recommends studying retention in departments and stakeholder groups at least annually so problems can be addressed quickly. Below are some key points she made about why people leave organizations and how to proactively address discontent-causing practices:
- Only 12% leave an organization for reasons related to compensation
- 88% leave for other reasons, including: organizational culture; management style or a specific supervisor; lack of opportunities for advancement or professional development; or, the organization’s lack of commitment to quality or mission
- One in three employees is thinking of leaving at any one time; for discontented staff that rises to 50%
- Discontented workers often increase: tardiness, mistakes, detachment, poor attitude
- To proactively address potential discontent: listen to employees; conduct a ‘stay interview’ (what will keep you here/what will send you away); offer opportunities for new assignments, training, and leadership development; provide options for work/life balance, encourage ‘a voice’ in how the organization runs and how the mission is served
- Leave organizations for the same reasons staff do plus lack of: orientation, interpersonal relationships, good skill/assignment match, commitment to mission
- To get and keep volunteers: develop a volunteer management program with a policy and procedure manual; review and update recruiting practices (only recruit people and skills you really need); develop job descriptions; provide orientation, ongoing training, and recognition; assure meaningful integration into the organization; and, conduct stay/exit interviews
- Leave organizations because of: low productivity in the board room (low expectations; poor attendance, preparation, or engagement; lack of meeting management); crisis mentality; factions and impasses; poor ED-CEO / board relationships;
- To get and keep board members: recruit and orient purposefully and appropriately; create an intentional culture of candor, inclusiveness, foresight, and reflection; evaluate and change board structure, operations, and ‘work’ (clearly define board / ED roles; move from hands-on to policy focus, etc); engage in strategic discussions and issues; and, conduct stay/exit interviews
Continually assessing all areas (ED, board, staff, volunteers), individually and collectively, and implementing a culture of continuous engagement and improvement will go a long way to stemming and/or reversing discontent in all stakeholder groups. The costs for your organization and, especially the constituents you serve, are too high to do otherwise.
For more information on this and many other risk management topics, visit the Nonprofit Center for Risk Management. ONEplace presents their First Wednesday Webinar Series and Third Thursday HR Webinar Series. Check our website calendar for more information and registration.
Nonprofit Center for Risk Management (symbol: Chinese for angry, annoyed, unhappy)